Being a Druid and a Pagan always brings some of the zaniest notions from family, friends, co-workers – even neighbors. I have been asked if I roast small children over a fire pit in my backyard by a few hardcore right-wing nutjobs that claim to be Christians. I have been told that I am doing Satan’s bidding in the current world. Those statements typically get a smile and a shake of my head as a response. I have found that anything beyond that only encourages more vitriol from those folks. However, I do get questions from the above-mentioned group of folks that are fun to answer and provoke some interesting and nice conversations.
When I was teaching at the community college, I never hid the fact that I was a Druid and a Pagan. I didn’t advertise it, but students can be some truly resourceful information gatherers. One student approached me after class as I was walking in the parking lot to my truck. “Why all the emphasis on trees? Why is nature so important?” I beckoned him to follow me to the truck. I popped the tailgate, so we had a place to sit, and I started to relate my reasoning for that emphasis, as it occurred to me.
Thinking back to that moment, I realized it might be fun, informative, and a good exercise for me to backtrack to this conversation. However, it will just be a one-sided “conversation” here with the blog. Hopefully, you will allow me this indulgence.
To be able to articulate the perspective behind “Why Nature? Why trees?”, I have to start a lot further back. I didn’t grow up in the United States, for the most part. My father was active-duty Air Force, and we moved around a lot. A lot of my younger years come from living in Germany. My father enjoyed Germany and its culture, plus he married my mom – a German citizen. We were always close to family. We participated a lot in German culture, particularly in Volksmarching. I knew the term for this form of non-competitive fitness walking as Volkswanderung, and I really enjoyed participating it. Most 10km, 20km, and 30km trails went through the countryside near various towns. I remember walking along the trails in farming fields, along streets in towns, and through dense forested areas, which Germany has in quite an abundance of. Later, when I got stationed in Germany as an active-duty Air Force member, I recall marveling how the populace would avoid growth, to preserve the forested areas between towns. During my walks in the woods, both as a child and as an adult, I always felt a sense of calm and easiness when walking through the wooded areas. I always felt at home there. During my adult years there, I even found the time to reach out to the Spirits of Place within the forest. Those Spirits felt so old and ancient – and at a few times it felt like They were just ignoring me. Like people come and go at such a fast pace, that Their attention towards humans was just not warranted.
Prior to my Air Force time in Germany, I spent the mid-to-late 1980s at Carswell Air Force Base in Forth Worth, Texas. At that time, the Dallas/Fort Worth concrete jungle had not completely formed as it is today. There were wooded fields between Fort Worth and Arlington (to the east). Living in Fort Worth was like living in a small city that was out on its own. No huge worries. If I needed a dose of nature, it was not a big drive to get to it. In 1994, when I returned from Germany and was ending my career in the Air Force, the Dallas/Fort Worth had changed a bit. I have watched it grow into the concrete jungle that it is today. Every time I go through the main population area of the DFW metro-mess (my term for it), it does not take long for me to feel disconnected from the natural world around me. When I was living in Houston a few months back, I felt much the same way. While I understand why people live in large metropolitan areas, I have come to understand that its not for me. Where I live now, I’m in a rural area. For me, its very easy to reach out and connect with the natural aspects of the world around me.
Still, why nature? Why the trees? As I noted, I feel more at home in such an environment. I have dreams – or goals, if you prefer – of returning to Germany and walking through stretches of the Black Forest that I had played in before. I had that same feeling when I visited Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. Each moment felt so serene, so peaceful, so perfectly in tune with what I needed. For me, these natural spaces within our modern, plastic, steel, and concrete world are important. These spaces allow people to reach back to feelings of simpler times. When man lived with Nature and did not attempt to dominate Nature and bend it to the greed of a few. For me, time in places where man has not bent the environment to his will, those are moments where I can recharge my soul. Where I can ground and center myself. Where I can lean back into the grasses and watch the skies above change from light to dark. Where I can easily see the stars in the far-flung Universe above without having to fight the light-pollution generated by the concrete cities that never sleep.
I know. Many folks will point out the romantic and over-blown notions that I hold on to. After all, I live in a heated and air-conditioned home, even out here beyond the growing reach of the greater metro area. I have a grocery store where I can gather food stuffs that are already caught, cultivated, and processed for my consumption. I am not trying to become a survivalist or anything along those thoughts. I admit that I have that part of the “modern” human with me, and without that, I would be hard-pressed to adapt to a different way of living. However, getting out into Nature – away from the amenities of modern living – allows me to take a few moments to commune in a manner that I find to be deeper and more comforting. I don’t need that every day, but I do need it from time to time.
Perhaps the way I go about all of this might some hypocritical to some or unnecessary to others. However, I live my life as I need to. I’m not here trying to reach the accolades and praise of others, according to the manner that what I do matches their efforts. I applaud them for what they do, how they approach things from their own perspective. I have no desire or need to deride them if their efforts do not match mine. Everyone does things according to their own needs, abilities, and desires. How all that works for them is not for me to judge. Rather, I would prefer if a few of them would come around the campfire, so we can talk or maybe just listen to the sounds of the night or watch the stars above. I find that to be far more desirable than arguing over who is doing something right or wrong in communing with their environment. In fact, I prefer that over arguing over a whole slew of things. And if no one joins me? Well, the trees don’t argue or deride anyone over their choices. Plus, you must be quiet to hear the conversations through the rustling leaves and branches. Just thinking about that brings a huge smile to my face.